The Mystery of 2012
An Update from Robinson Crusoe Island
by Jeff Salz, Ph.D.
Why all the hubbub about December 21, 2012?
Is it the end of the old world … or just the opening of a new movie?
After an expedition around the world, one cultural anthropologist shares his thoughts.
The expedition is over. The crew has departed, leaving me alone on this sparsely inhabited island in the South Pacific. In 1704, privateer Alexander Selkirk, the inspiration for the tale of Robinson Crusoe, spent four and a half years stranded here. I have but four and a half days. Marooned indefinitely, cut off from the rest of the world, the swashbuckling, amoral Selkirk discovered a deep spiritual peace and elevated perspective that he recalled for the rest of his life.
An account in The Englishman, a newspaper at the time of his rescue, recounts:
“This plain man’s story is a memorable example that he is happiest who
confines his wants to natural necessities, and he that goes further in his
desires increases his wants in proportion to his acquisitions; or to use his
own expression, ‘I am worth eight hundred pounds (a LOT of money at that time),
but shall never be so happy as when I was not worth a farthing.’ ”
Interestingly, 2009 is exactly three centuries from the year of Selkirk’s escape. Inspired by his story, moved by his insights, I seek a homeopathic dose of the same medicine. Or at least enough distance-inspired perspective to provide some clarity on my life and the findings of our recent expedition.
Just a month ago I got the phone call. One of those you dream of. An archeologist had discovered a ‘monument’ on an undisclosed island off the coast of South America that was potentially linked not only to the Mayan culture, but to the “phenomenon of 2012”. The History Channel was mounting an expedition and needed an anthropologist/adventurer to join him on his return escapade to the site.
There were rough seas to traverse in a small boat. Steep and treacherous volcanic rock to climb. Pay was nominal, hardships plentiful, conditions hazardous. Was I interested?
Two weeks later I was on a tuna-fishing boat, the Tio Tomas, steaming away from Valparaiso Chile embarking on the three-day trip to Robinson Crusoe Island.
Filming on Robinson Crusoe Island
Jim Turner is a force of nature.
His relentless enthusiasm and boundless imagination have made him a near-legend here on the island. Jim first stumbled across the ‘monument’ in 1996. An archeologist with a specialization in pre-Columbian Mayan architecture, he was bumming around the end of the world with a backpack when an unusual formation at the uninhabited tip of the island caught his eye. He recognized the shape of the 150 foot tall tower as the distinct form of two principal characters of the Palenque-era Maya: the snail and the jaguar. Returning home and beginning his research, Jim Turner made a startling discovery: the final transit of Venus and the last solar eclipse of the World Age of 5,125 years – according to the Long Count calendar – were to be uniquely visible from the slopes of the ‘monument’.
Pieces of the puzzle were beginning to pile up.
Jim was well versed in the history of the Mayan kings of Palenque who had a propensity to memorialize their reigns with temples and palaces. However no such structure had ever been discovered to commemorate one of the greatest kings of all: the legendary Chan Bahlum. Could it be that Chan Bahlum and his ancient Mayan mariners somehow found their way thousand of miles from Central America to these deserted shores to carve a memorial befitting a royal figure of such rank? One that would reign for thousands of years and have a front row seat for one of the greatest spectacles of all time: the final total solar eclipse of 2012?
It seems that no matter how deeply one investigates the Maya, the outcome is few answers… and a lot more questions.
Why did an advanced civilization appear more than 1,500 years ago with the most sophisticated calendar till the advent of the computers of the 20th century, construct a huge empire replete with observatories to study galactic cycles… and then suddenly disappear? So suddenly that 2009 findings suggest a sudden departure
with household implements abandoned – almost Pompeii-style – helter-skelter in ancient kitchens ? Why does their 5,000 year calendar (so accurate that experts like Michael D. Coe tell us it has “not slipped one day in over 25 centuries”) end specifically on a precise date: December 21, 2012? Is it a coincidence that they choose as their final day the exact date that our solar system, our sun and our planet align with the center of the Milky Way galaxy – an event that will not happen again for another 26,000 years? And that day happens to fall on the exact date of the winter solstice?
Mysterious ‘Mayan’ Monument … and Stars
And is it a co-incidence that Jim Turner’s ‘monument’ stares out at an unobstructed view of the horizon in one of the few locations on the planet with an actual vista of the final solar eclipse of a two hundred and sixty century cycle?
(A disclaimer: You will find no spoilers here. To divulge all our findings would be a disservice to our sponsors at the History Channel. The show is tentatively scheduled for broadcast on January 3, 2010. I hope you will make a note to tune in. Suffice to say, if we have done our job right the viewer will be left enthralled by the adventure, amazed by the research… and left to wonder. For to be full of wonder is indeed ‘wonder-full’.)
Personally, I am impressed that so many of the oldest indigenous traditions agree, predicting times of massive transformation immediately ahead. Not only Mayan and Hopi, Aztec, Inca, many scholars from many of the world’s leading religions – including Christian, Hindu and Jewish – agree. For non-believers, it is impossible to deny the forecasts of scientists of every stripe who warn that peak oil, global climate change, changing demographics, the rise of consumerism, species extinction and our current world-wide economic downturn are in conjunction to overcome our societal slumber with a wake-up call in the form of a ‘perfect storm’ of planetary proportions.
Still, in my opinion the news is good. Not easy… but good. At the edge of a precipice, the only step ahead is one in some entirely different direction. I believe this journey to the edge may scare us just enough to change course.
While there is ample agreement among major traditions that an old world may be coming to an end, there is every reason to believe that a new and better world is in the works. Elders the world around point to a rebirth that may lead to an even brighter future. Forty years ago Oswald White Bear Fredricks – co-author of The Book of the Hopi – took me aside and explained a Hopi prophesy found on the rocks of Old Oraibi. We were soon to depart the Fourth World for the Fifth, he explained. This would be a rebirth for humankind, an emergence from a time of greed, scarcity and spiritual impoverishment. During my dozens of visits to Nepal and India I have repeatedly experienced the Hindu belief in the imminent end of the age of darkness called the Kali Yuga. The world of injustice and suffering we inhabit currently is little more than Brahma’s bad dream from which he is about to awake – and us with him – into the Golden Age, the paradisiacal Satya Yuga.
I would remind Hollywood filmmakers and those of similar cataclysmic persuasion that the end of a calendar does not mean the end of the world. Mayan time – like that of Hindu and most indigenous traditions – is cyclic, it flows from one ‘world cycle’ into another. We use a similar language when we speak of the ‘end of the year ‘ never thinking to debate whether or not there will be a new one coming once midnight has passed and the last page is ripped from the preceding year’s datebook.
The danger being a 2012 devotee is that – whether you are apocalyptic or optimistic – it is possible to just sit in our chairs, lulled into a sense of misguided fatalism, waiting to see what happens next. In our current world situation, that would be a mistake. Instead, we must leap to our feet and actively embrace the Buddhist notion of kharma: the understanding that our destiny is no more or less than as the choices we make. No matter what tradition you embrace – be it spirit or science – 2012 presents an essential opportunity, a rallying point for concentrated efforts to create new paradigms in politics. In business. In life.
Exactly three hundred years after Selkirk was plucked off this island and returned to his family, I ponder my experience and inevitable return. Like most of us, I recall my initial experience of photos taken by astronauts on the moon that offered us our first clear images of the earth from space. The ultimate group portrait of life shared on a giant blue ball floating in space, somewhere between Mars and Venus. It was a transcendent moment that would affect our awareness forever.
On December 21, 2012 the sun will move into direct alignment with the center of the Milky Way. Perhaps our planet will – as some mystics claim – be bathed in cosmic rays that will elevate our consciousness and a new golden age will begin. I do not know. But of one thing I am absolutely certain. On that date we will all have the opportunity to upgrade our perspective from the planetary to the galactic.
As Alexander Selkirk understood upon arriving back from his adventure around the world: the greatest gift of all is the chance to see our lives and homes with fresh eyes, as if for the first time… and then, out of appreciation and gratitude, make better choices for our life ahead.
On December 21, 2012 we will all have that opportunity.
One of today’s authentic adventurers and explorers, Dr. Jeff Salz has spent a lifetime traversing most of the remaining blank spots on the globe. A professional wilderness guide and expedition-leader with a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology, he continues to leads frequent mountaineering treks to remote areas and unclimbed summits in the Himalayas.
When not in the wilderness, through articles, books, keynote speaking and consulting, Jeff is the ‘guru of adventure’ for today’s most cutting edge organizations. His client list includes top leadership at organizations such as eBay, Microsoft, Wal-Mart and the Walt Disney Company.